Why I think James Harrison gets it wrong


James Harrison, Steelers linebacker, made headlines recently when he reportedly gave back trophies which his kids didn’t “earn.” I have no idea what would have qualified them to “earn” a trophy for “Next Level Athletics-Student Athlete.” But apparently, Harrison’s “family values” for raising of his boys don’t allow for such compromising poppycock.

I know it is “wrong” these days to say anything is “wrong” unless it departs from secular mainstream values. But I do believe this is the wrong approach because the trophy is not the problem.

Does your child receiving a trophy make him work less to reach a goal? Does your child receiving a participation trophy make him “softer” or lazier?

Let me share an experience I feel is all to common with youth sports today. I coach 6-7 year old basketball but a kid I mentor played in the championship game on Saturday morning. During the game I overheard that a coach of an 8-9 year old cussed at a ref and got tossed the previous night. The 10-11 year old championship ended with bad clock running, a kid getting singled out, and some adults cussing at each other as they walked out.  Earlier in the season a coach/pastor told a team, “The other team simply got lucky.” Not exactly losing with class or grace.

Now I don’t know how much the other kids are practicing, but I do know my son and my neighbor (who lost the finals) work extremely hard. They do it to perform the best they can and to win the game. The trophy isn’t the problem.

The kids want to, or rather need to, win. Even more so the parents and coaches, including myself at times. But this isn’t a local problem. It’s like this on the baseball field, soccer fields, (I’ve never been to a lacrosse game-but I imagine it would be the same). They want to win, regardless of the trophy.

Is our problem that kids and adults don’t care enough? Really? Trophy or not, these kids cared plenty enough that Saturday, and some of their parents or grandparents cared way too much.

Returning trophies is just a legalistic quick fix way to get your kids to work hard.

Spend time talking with your kids about their heart idols. Spend time diagnosing your own heart idolatry-what you really look to for meaning, hope, life. While not a quick fix, but an instead an ongoing dynamic relationship where you point your kid to Jesus, it does make a difference. It already has with both my son and me.

Let us also learn how glorifying God through our sports can motivate us to never give up, but also to lose with dignity (unlike the Seahawks) or win by cheating (like the Patriots).

Ill never give back a trophy my kid didn’t “earn.” My competitive 7 year old doesn’t need his dad reminding him to work harder because he didn’t play his best game in the championship. That’s ludicrous.

Harrison is a complicated cat indeed. This is the same guy who didn’t go to the White House after winning the Super Bowl because Obama would have invited the Cardinals had they lost. Really? But I thought losers shouldn’t be rewarded?

Forget the trophy, and look at your heart. Then look at your kids’ hearts. Then see how much more amazing Jesus is than a victory in sports, or any other success you could achieve in life.

And by the way, if you think God’s grace makes you lazy, you obviously haven’t tasted it. Check out what it did for the Apostle Paul:

“10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

He worked harder to spread the gospel, harder to repent, harder to believe the gospel himself because of grace. You can begin to grasp grace and still work to be the best athlete you can be. And then you arrive, you’ll be the most humble as well. Grace is what makes a man.


2 thoughts on “Why I think James Harrison gets it wrong

  1. Larry Harrison earned a paycheck be winning 11 games last season. He also was given a paycheck that he didn’t earn in the 5 games that the Steelers lost in 2014. Should only the winning team get paid in professional sports? In the Olympics they pass out silver and bronze medals to go along with the gold medals. I think a participation certificate communicates the same thing as a participation trophy. If i want to be a little silly, I could ask if only those who graduate first in their class should receive a diploma?

    (Frankly, he is the head of his house and can set his own rules, regardless if I agree or disagree with them).

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